@wradv report: Arizona’s Water Future: Colorado River Shortage, Innovative Solutions, Living Well With Less

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Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates:

Western Resources Advocates (WRA) released a new analysis today that shows Central Arizona’s cities, suburban growth in significant areas, and agriculture face substantial cuts in Colorado River water supplies if Lake Mead levels continue to fall. Analysis of data from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Central Arizona Project (CAP) identifies who could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies, and at what level, within Arizona as Lake Mead levels continue to drop.

The report, Arizona’s Water Future: Colorado River Shortage, Innovative Solutions, Living Well with Less, finds:

  • Phoenix and Tucson suburban growth that uses the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to prove there is renewable water to cover development will be cut first in a shortage declaration under existing agreements;
  • Four important Central Arizona Irrigation Districts could also lose a substantial portion of their CAP water, including Maricopa Stanfield, Central Arizona, Hohokam, and Harquahala; and
  • Major cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies within this decade if Lake Mead drops below the 1,025’ level.
  • These cuts are looming because Arizona’s ”bank” for 40% of its water supply, Lake Mead, is being drained faster than it can be filled. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a nearly 50% chance of a federal shortage declaration, that would cut 320,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona, happening as soon as 2018 under business as usual. This level of cuts could harm agriculture, lead to over-drafting of nonrenewable groundwater, reduce hydroelectric power, and provide a lot less water for Arizona cities and the environment.

    “Arizona is facing perhaps its greatest challenge since the settlement of the region and development of modern cities, agriculture, and industry,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager, Western Resource Advocates. “The time is now for ADWR and CAP to put in place longer-term solutions that prevent significant water shortages and stand the test of time. One cannot put Band-Aids on an ill patient, while failing to address the underlying illness.”

    Arizona has already taken important action by implementing interim measures to keep more water in Lake Mead to help stave off federally mandated cutbacks of Colorado River water. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has also been working with California, Nevada, and key water users within Arizona on plans to keep Lake Mead from falling to critically low levels.

    Western Resource Advocates and conservation partners at American Rivers and Environmental Defense Fund have developed seven policies and actions to protect groundwater and help Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment thrive in a future with less Colorado River water supplies.

    Three of the seven proposed policies and actions are:

  • Water providers and farmers, with support from ADWR, should adopt next-generation water conservation and efficiencyfor our homes, business and agriculture.
  • The Central Arizona Project should expand its support of system conservation programs allowing municipalities and other water users to dedicate conserved water to stay in Lake Mead to prevent water levels from dropping farther.
  • Water providers, cities and agriculture, with support from CAP and ADWR, should increase the number of innovative water sharing arrangements between themselves,like the Phoenix-Tucson water sharing agreement.
  • “System Conservation Programs have proven to be a great success along the Colorado River, putting more water into Lake Mead and keeping the lake from falling to drastically low levels,” said Jeff Odefey, Director, Clean Water Supply, American Rivers. “Innovative water sharing agreements, like that between Phoenix and Tucson, are an ideal example other water interests should adopt, demonstrating the collaboration and flexibility we will need to stabilize Lake Mead levels for the long term.”

    “We are all in this together in the Colorado River basin. ADWR is on the right track with increasing the level of collaboration and proactive actions with all Arizona water stakeholders. Now ADWR and stakeholders need to also adopt longer-term solutions,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director, Colorado River Program, Environmental Defense Fund. “In the end, the strategy which has served Arizona and the Lower Basin states the most is to focus on collaboration and ongoing water management innovation that benefit both current and future generations.”

    The two-page Arizona’s Water Future Executive Summary is downloadable here and the thirty-page full report is downloadable here.

    CU “ColoradoLaw Talks” start February 8, 2017

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    Click here to register. From the website:

    Colorado Law School are pleased to announce the launch of a new lecture series in 2017. Colorado Law Talks features our faculty and other members of the Colorado Law community. It provides an opportunity hear about the lecturers’ current scholarship, and to discuss the questions and ideas that motivate, influence, and shape their work. The work of Colorado Law’s professors includes an extraordinary array of diverse projects-not just intriguing scholarship, but innovative teaching methods, and valuable contributions to communities beyond the law school. Colorado Law Talks will allow us to share some of these projects with you, providing an important opportunity for Colorado Law and the legal community to engage with ideas, and with one another.

    The inaugural Colorado Law Talk “The Law of the River” will be delivered by Professor Sarah Krakoff on Wed., Feb. 8. Professor Krakoff will discuss the many legal and policy issues, including tribal consultation, endangered species, uranium mining, and of course the Colorado River compact, that affect the Colorado River and its surroundings. Professor Krakoff’s lecture will be followed by a reception and an opportunity to mix and mingle with members of our Colorado Law community.

    When: Wed., Feb. 8, 5:30 p.m.
    Location: Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, 1550 17th Street, Suite 500, Denver.

    Registration Information: The event is free for all Colorado Law students and 2012-2016 Colorado Law graduates, $10 for all other alumni, and $20 for other guests.

    The evening’s proceeds will benefit Professor Krakoff’s Advanced Natural Resource Seminar (The Law of the River), which will address all of these issues and more, and will culminate in a two-week raft trip through the Grand Canyon.

    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    High Demand, Low Supply: Colorado River Water Crisis Hits Across The West — @NewsCPR

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    For decades, the [Colorado River] has fed growing cities from Denver to Los Angeles. A lot of the produce in supermarkets across the country was grown with Colorado River water. But with climate change, and severe drought, the river is reaching a crisis point, and communities at each end of it are reacting very differently…

    The problem is that Colorado’s population will nearly double by 2050. Future residents will need more water. Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says more storage is part of the solution. It’s also an insurance policy against future drought.

    “From Denver Water’s perspective, if we can’t provide clean, reliable, sustainable water 100 years from now to our customers, we’re not doing our job,” Lochhead says.

    Demand for Colorado River water is already stretched thin. So it may sound crazy that places like Colorado and Wyoming want to develop more water projects. Legally, that’s something they are entitled to do.

    Wyoming is studying whether to store more water from a Colorado River tributary. “We feel we have some room to grow, but we understand that growth comes with risk,” says Pat Tyrrell, who oversees Wyoming’s water rights.

    Risk because in 10 or 20 years there may not be enough water to fill up expanded reservoirs. A 16-year drought has dramatically decreased water supply even as demand keeps growing. And climate change could make this picture worse.

    It makes Tyrrell’s job feel impossible.

    “You understand the reality today of a low water supply,” he says. “You also know that you’re going to have permit applications coming in to develop more water. What do you do?”

    Tyrrell says that as long as water is available, Wyoming will very likely keep finding new ways to store it. But a future with less water is coming.

    In California, that future of cutbacks has already arrived. The water that started in Colorado flows more than 1,000 miles to greater Los Angeles.

    So even in the sixth year of California’s drought, some lawns are still green.

    “Slowly but surely, the entire supply on Colorado River has become less reliable,” says Jeffrey Kightlinger, who manages the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. He notes that the water level in Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir on the river, has been plummeting.

    An official shortage could be declared next winter. “And that’ll be a historic moment,” Kightlinger says.

    It’s never happened before. Arizona and Nevada would be forced to cut back on how much water they draw from the river. California would be spared that fate, because it has senior water rights. So you wouldn’t expect to hear what Kightlinger says next.

    “We are having voluntary discussions with Arizona and Nevada about what we would do proactively to help,” he says.

    California could help by giving up water before it has to, between 5 percent and 8 percent of its supply. Kightlinger isn’t offering this out of the goodness of his heart; if Lake Mead drops too low, the federal government could step in and reallocate all the water, including California’s.

    “We all realize if we model the future and we build in climate change, we could be in a world of hurt if we do nothing,” Kightlinger says.

    This idea of cooperation is somewhat revolutionary after years of lawsuits and bad blood.

    Recently, farmer Steve Benson was checking on one of his alfalfa fields near the Mexican border. “We know there’s a target on our back in the Imperial Valley for the amount of water we use,” he says.

    This valley produces two-thirds of the country’s vegetables in the winter — with water from the Colorado River.

    In fact, for decades, California used more than its legal share of the river and had to cut back in 2003. This area, the Imperial Irrigation District, took the painful step of transferring some of its water to cities like San Diego.

    Bruce Kuhn voted on that water transfer as a board member of the district. “It was the single hardest decision I have ever made in my life,” he says.

    Kuhn ended up casting the deciding vote to share water, which meant some farmers have had to fallow their land.

    “It cost me some friends,” he says. “I mean, we still talk but it isn’t the same.”

    Soon, Kuhn may have to make another painful decision about whether California should give up water to Arizona and Nevada. With an emergency shortage looming, Kuhn may have no choice.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell as ‘savings account’

    Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- via The Mountain Town News
    Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — via The Mountain Town News

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

    Lake Powell, which helps moderate water levels in Lake Mead, acts as a “savings account” for the states in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River.

    In the years when the Upper Basin can’t meet its water-sharing obligations as required in the 1922 Colorado River Compact, water is released from the Lake Powell “account” for Lower Basin use.

    But what happens when that Lake Powell account is over-drawn?

    One is the potential impacts of a declining Lake Powell is the potential impact on power generation.

    If Lake Powell drops below 3,490 feet above sea level (on Oct. 28 the level was 3,611 feet or 58 percent full), there no longer is enough water in the reservoir to push through the eight giant turbines.

    This potential shortage of power in the western grid would have to be covered by changes in power generation at Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo dams.

    “The likely first trigger we run into, the first cataclysm, is Lake Powell reaching a level where” power is not being produced, said Chris Treece of the Colorado River District. “That has impacts to all the power customers and not getting that revenue from the power impacts us in Colorado and in Grand Junction in particular.”

    According to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell each year averages $150 million in power revenue and makes enough electricity to power more than 320,000 homes. The federal endangered fish recovery program is funded by power revenues, as is the salinity control program in the Paradox Valley and the adaptive management program for the Grand Canyon.

    According to the Department of the Interior, the Grand Canyon plan provides even monthly volume releases and allows experimental releases to restore sand features and key fish and wildlife habitat, increase beaches and enhance wilderness values along the Colorado River.

    Plus, low levels mean not enough push to get the water through the tubes and into the lower river.

    “And if we are not sending water through the turbines, just the bypass tubes, we are on a mathematical certainty that we will not be able to provide 8.23 (million acre feet) over the long haul, and won’t have enough pressure and size to push that quantity of water through the dam,” Treece said.

    During her presentation earlier this month, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said there is a “50/50 chance” the upper basin will see water shortage.

    “Ten years ago most people were dismissing any chance of the Upper Basin having a water shortage or being out of compliance with the compact obligations,” Treece said. “Now, it’s pretty much widely accepted that it’s a probability greater than zero. And that’s a real significant change in the dialogue.”

    Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference recap

    Lake Havasu is a large reservoir behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River, on the border between California and Arizona. Lake Havasu City sits on the lake's eastern shore. Photo credit MyGola.com
    Lake Havasu is a large reservoir behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River, on the border between California and Arizona. Lake Havasu City sits on the lake’s eastern shore. Photo credit MyGola.com

    From HavasuNews.com (Brandon Messick):

    Lake Mead’s water levels this year fell to a near all-time low in the midst of a 16-year drought throughout the Southwestern U.S., prompting discussion at a national conference last week.

    The Colorado River Water Users Association met [December 14-16, 2017] in Las Vegas for an annual conference, where guests — including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — discussed the need for conservation efforts and governance of the Colorado River’s water supply. Ducey and Hickenlooper hosted a question-and-answer session with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last Monday, in which both agreed that water is an issue that “transcends partisan politics.”

    According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Arizona and California are negotiating the terms of a contingency plan to protect Lake Mead, a final agreement is still pending.

    “This plan is a way to delay and maybe thwart shortage declarations with the most important aspect of California agreeing to take shortages after Lake Mead reaches particular elevations,” said Lake Havasu City’s Water Resources Coordinator Doyle Wilson. “Since the plan has not yet been approved by all parties, details are uncertain.”

    Havasu receives an allocation of about 28,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River. Havasu uses about half that amount. If a water shortage were declared, the city would be required to use 20 percent less than its currently-allocated amount. According to Lake Havasu City officials, the city would be in no immediate danger in the event of a shortage. Havasu’s pending effluent water project is will provide reused water to city parks, further progressing the city’s conservation efforts.

    “A combination of projects and programs have helped to educate the community on conserving water and have resulted in real water use efficiency at both the personal and citywide levels,” Wilson said. Havasu residents have used low water-use faucet and shower heads, geyser stop devices for irrigation systems, and have received rebates for water conservation.

    “Over the years, the combined activities, along with the acknowledgment that the winter water averaging strategy for setting monthly sewer rates has lowered the city’s overall water consumption,” Wilson said.

    In Havasu, total water consumption has more than halved in the past thirty years. In 1985, water consumption peaked at more than 450 gallons daily per capita. As of 2015, Havasu’s total water consumption was recorded at about 175 gallons per capita, daily, and trending even lower. Residential water consumption in Havasu was recorded at about 130 gallons per capita, daily.

    Conservation efforts continue statewide, according to Arizona Department of Water Resources spokeswoman Michelle Moreno.

    “As a state, we’re more efficient in water conservation,” Moreno said. “We use less than we did in the 1950s, despite a 600-percent population increase, in part because of our conservation efforts.”

    Arizona regulates water use on an industrial level, maintaining mandatory conservation while allowing providers to educate customers in conservation efforts. Some water providers offer rebates to customers for efforts to conserve water at home.

    The Central Arizona Project is continuing to lead conservation programs to prevent a shortage in 2018, according to the Department of Water Resources, but the risks of another shortage are expected to increase from 2019-21.

    Stakeholders in the Lower-Basin Colorado River expected this year’s conference to focus on agreements associated with the Drought Contingency Plan, which would revise water conservation efforts and restrictions in the event of a water shortage. Stakeholders also expected announcements involving an agreement on water rights and restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico. No such announcements came, which could hold consequences for Lake Havasu City, as well as the American Southwest.

    The situation in Lake Mead is only projected to become worse, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Lake Mead’s surface now rests at about 1,077 feet above sea level, and Bureau of Reclamation officials say there is a 54 percent chance that the lake will fall below 1,075 feet in 2017.

    Lake Mead’s water levels are measured every August, and the results of that month’s measurement will determine if cuts will need to be made, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. If Mead’s water level falls below 1,075 feet above sea level in August 2017, Arizona water providers will be forced to reduce their water usage by 192,000 acre-feet until August 2018, according to new proposed guidelines. Nevada would similarly have to reduce water usage by 8,000 acre-feet per year, while California would not be required to make reductions at all.

    Arizona, California and Nevada each have an interest in maintaining Lake Mead’s water levels. Mead represents one of the two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River system, and directly affects the supply of river water to all three states. Federal agencies measure Lake Mead’s water levels to determine whether a shortage should be declared on the Colorado River. If such a shortage were declared, California would be asked to make significant cuts to its water usage.

    Arizona, California and Nevada are negotiating the terms for their proposed “Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan,” which would revise 2007 water restriction guidelines among the three states. According to the 2007 guidelines, Arizona would make the bulk of reductions in the event of a shortage, despite consuming less than either of its neighboring states. California, however, would never face water restrictions, no matter how low the water levels become at Lake Mead.

    The Colorado River provides water to 13 percent of America’s population. More than 40 million people rely on the river, but water shortages have exposed a need for changes in water use and policy. According to this month’s Arizona Department of Water Resources Drought Index, Southwestern Arizona continues to undergo severe drought conditions and the Havasu region is beginning to experience an “abnormally dry” season.

    As negotiations continue between Arizona, Nevada and California, the Department of Water Resources says the next steps for its “Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan” discussions will include continuing to assess potential impacts on the southwest.

    #ColoradoRiver: “It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study” — Eric Kuhn #COriver

    Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 -- Photo / Brad Udall
    Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 — Photo / Brad Udall

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The head of the Colorado River District is defending an ongoing water study from Front Range concerns about its intent and possible regional bias.

    Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, says while Front Range water interests view the project as a water supply study, that’s not the case.

    “It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study,” he said Monday in providing an update to the Colorado Basin Roundtable water group.

    The first phase of a study undertaken by the four Western Slope river basin roundtables, with the leadership of the river district and Southwestern Water Conservation District, found that another severe drought such as the one in the early 2000s could cause enough of a drop in Lake Powell to jeopardize Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity. It also could create a risk of Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states being unable to meet their downstream water delivery obligations under a 1922 interstate compact and under guidelines established in 2007. That could result in a cutback in Upper Basin water uses.

    The Western Slope is now planning a second phase of the study that would cost about $90,000. The goal is to further quantify the drought risks to water users in the state by looking at use-reduction scenarios for making up for a deficit of water in Powell.

    Four Western Slope roundtables are asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $10,000 apiece, or $40,000 total, for the study’s second phase, with the river district and Southwest district splitting the difference. But Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water and president of the Front Range Water Council utilities group, has written a letter arguing that such a study would be best conducted at a statewide or Upper Colorado River Basin level, “with all interested water users represented, rather than by particular sub regions or individual roundtables.”

    Some of the proposed involuntary water-use curtailment alternatives in the study’s second phase “potentially favor limited special interests,” Lochhead wrote, stressing the need instead for a state-led discussion that considers all interests.

    He also voiced the council’s concern that assumptions used in phase one “may be creating biased impressions regarding the amount of the remaining developable water” in the Colorado River Basin, and that phase one may be viewed by some outside the state “as representative of the State of Colorado’s position on remaining developable water.”

    How much of that water remains to be developed is a sensitive issue for the Western Slope, where most of Colorado’s water originates, and for the Front Range, which diverts a substantial amount of Colorado River water and wants to divert more.

    Kuhn says the study is simply intended to contribute toward developing a collaborative program for avoiding Colorado River compact problems for existing uses and some reasonable amount of new uses on the Western Slope. Collaboration aimed at heading off such curtailments on use due to interstate obligations was identified in the new state water plan as one of seven principles for guiding any discussions of new transmountain diversions out of the river basin.

    The CWCB’s director, James Eklund, has agreed to head up meetings aimed at resolving Front Range concerns about the study and its funding. Kuhn said he sees the result being that the state has a bigger say in the study’s scope of work, not that it takes over the study altogether.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    #ColoradoRiver: Sharing Water: A Special Presentation from Author John Fleck Wednesday, November 30 #COriver

    Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic
    Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

    Register here. From the website:

    When the governments of the United States and Mexico released water from Morelos Dam on the Colorado River in the spring of 2014, it marked the culmination of one of the most important environmental restoration experiments in arid western North America. In the midst of deep drought, water returned to the river’s desiccated delta, and with it birds, riparian plant communities, and even beavers. But while all nature is ultimately local, bringing water and wildlife back to that landscape required linking those local environmental concerns to water management in the entire Colorado River Basin, spread across seven U.S. states and two in Mexico. John Fleck will talk about his new book “Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West,” which chronicles the environmental success in the delta and the broader problem solving that made it possible.

    waterisforfightingoverandothermythsaboutwaterinthewestjohnfleckcover